The US beyond Syria: A reluctant empire?

Karen Greenberg in Aljazeera, September 30, 2013

Media Source

The Cold War is over, the Great Game is done, and the US stands alone as the world’s only remaining superpower. But to what end? And at what cost?

Nowhere are these questions more pressing or more immediate than in the Middle East, where the US' shifting roles as peace-broker or war-maker, naive do-gooder or diplomatic giant have bedevilled generations of American presidents.

In his recent speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Barack Obama, the US president, laid out the country's predicament in the Middle East with startling clarity, saying: "The United States is chastised for meddling in the region ... at the same time, the United States is blamed for failing to do enough to solve the region’s problems."

So, what is the US to do? And how will the rest of the world respond?

These are just some of the questions Empire tries to answer.

Is the US, as many have suggested, a reluctant empire straddling a fine line between what it feels duty-bound to accomplish overseas and what its people at home really hope for? Is it a fading force for good, grasping for power in a world where other players, such as China, are rising quickly to replace it?

Or is it, like the British, Roman or Ottoman empires of the past, unscrupulously defending its economic interests in whatever way works best?

The debate about the US' ongoing role in the Middle East comes as the delicate balance of power in the region is shifting on an almost daily basis. A month ago, war between it and Syria seemed almost inevitable, whereas today there is hope for a diplomatic solution.

Just weeks ago, tensions between the US and Iran were as unchanged as they have been for decades. Yet, today, there are serious signs of a thaw. And every time there is a new terror attack, such as the one in Nairobi's Westgate mall, the US' perpetual war on al-Qaeda and its roots in the Middle East gets renewed.

In this ever-changing landscape, Empire asks how the US can, or whether it even should, continue to balance these many competing equations.

In this episode, Empire travels to New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Beirut and London to delve into the issues with some of the world’s leading thinkers on the history of empire, international relations and political theory.

In Washington, we speak to Stephen Hadley, a former national security adviser under George W. Bush and one of the architects of the 2003 American invasion of Iraq; Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former director of policy planning at the US state department; Mark Jacobson of the German Marshall Fund; and David Kilcullen, a former counterterrorism strategist at the US state department.

In New York, we discuss US strategy in the Middle East with Karen Greenberg, the director of the Center of National Security at Fordham University’s School of Law, and Phyllis Bennis, the director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Also joining us in the discussion are Hamid Dabashi, a leading Middle East scholar at Columbia University; the renowned Boston University academic Andrew Bacevich, whose writing about the decline of American empire has shaped a generation of new scholars, and Edward Luttwak, a military strategist and author of The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire.

Join them, and us, for a fascinating look into empire, as the US contemplates its future and its fate in the Middle East.